Throughout the 2000s, print comics were being diligently scanned, page-by-page, and released online through popular file-sharing resources such as Usenet, chat forums like IRC, and torrent sites like The Pirate Bay. Of course these digital comics were not legally released by their publishers. It wasn’t until the tail end of the 2000s, with the launch of digital distribution services such as the now defunct Graphicly and the current industry leader Comixology, that comic publishers joined the digital comic revolution.
Today it seems like digital comics are available everywhere. Your smart phone, phablet, tablet, laptop and PC all support digital comics, and offer an easier means of transporting a collection than the traditional long box. Digital distributors store your collection in the cloud, meaning you don’t need to transport gigabytes of data but rather can simply download a purchased comic again on your preferred platform. But the digital format still has its limitations that hold it back from being the primary form of comic distribution.
- The patented Guided View technology offered by Comixology allows readers on the small screens of smart phones and phablets to still read comics comfortably by automatically moving from panel-to-panel with a swipe of the finger, in an attempt to mimic eye movement across a printed page. Unfortunately, this method of reading comics limits the storytelling potential of the medium by eliminating the use of panel layouts to help tell the story. Comic books simply aren’t meant to be read on such small screens, at least not yet.
- Image rotation on Comixology and similar distribution services such as Marvel Unlimited does not exist, despite being a prevalent addition to comic reading programs frequently used by pirates, such as Comic Rack. Laptops in particular benefit from rotating the image 90 degrees and then holding the laptop like a book to maximize screen space and provide an experience similar to a print comic. Gyroscopes in tablets accomplish this feature automatically, but it’s a baffling omission from these distributors that is deeply missed on laptops.
- Retailers still haven’t found the “sweet spot” for pricing digital comics. Currently, digital comics retail for the same price as their print counterparts: usually $2.99 or $3.99 per issue. Despite saving money on paper, ink, and printing costs, the price of digital comics remains stubbornly fixed.
- Marvel offers the Marvel Unlimited service, access to much of their backlog of comics for only $9.99 per month, although new comics are only added to the service six months after their initial release. Still, the service is a great idea that could morph into the Netflix or Hulu Plus of comic distribution if the right price point can be struck to add newer comics with only a short gap from initial release date (perhaps only a couple weeks).
- DC offers a “Digital First” line of comics that have been optimized for the digital format and released first digitally, and with a lowered price point between $0.99 and $1.99 per issue. By releasing titles like Batman ’66 and Injustice: Gods Among Us first digitally, DC encourages fans to dip their feet into the waters of digital distribution. And as shown by the images below, digital comics can be presented in a dynamic format which simply cannot be reproduced on a printed page.